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New Test for Emphysema on the Horizon
Date:3/11/2011

esigned to measure the presence in the bloodstream of capillary debris, known as endothelial microparticles, or EMP, that results from injury to the lung's air sacs, called alveoli. The researchers noted that air sacs are central to respiratory function, and their COPD-driven deterioration ultimately shreds the lungs, producing the Swiss-cheese appearance that's telltale of the disease.

When tested on healthy nonsmokers, healthy smokers and smokers with signs of lung disease, the new test for EMP was found to be nearly foolproof in detecting early signs of emphysema, compared with the current emphysema screening method, known as DLCO, or lung diffusion testing, which measures how well the lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The new test, according to the researchers, also is better than the current one at uncovering the earliest signs of disease and can be done without the involvement of a pulmonologist.

In addition, they said, being able to easily diagnose emphysema at an early stage could be the leg up that health practitioners need to get their patients who smoke to finally kick the addiction.

Dr. Neil Schachter, a professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, agreed.

"Only about 15 percent of smokers will go on to develop emphysema," he noted. "So if you're a gambler and a smoker, which most are in a very general sense, it may not feel that urgent to stop smoking if you think you have a better-than-even chance of beating the game. But if you know you're in that 15 percent, it certainly is a powerful argument that physicians can bring forth to help convince people to stop smoking."

"But even so, smoking is a terrible, huge addiction," Schachter stressed. "It's difficult to convince people to quit, even when they know they have symptomatic disease. So it's not clear this will actually make a difference."

Edmund J. Miller, head of the Center for Heart and Lung Research at the Feinste
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